With Conan O’Brien at the wheel, Sunday night’s Emmy Awards ought to at least be a merry old show, a wild ride. Comedy is in Conan’s DNA.
There’s one way he could disappoint: by turning chicken and shying away from jokes about drunk driver and anti-Semite-about-town Mel Gibson. The Gibson incident is still hot in the public consciousness, famous to some and sickeningly infamous to others, and the drunken, egomaniacal actor has hardly paid a stiff price for his public offense: making anti-Semitic remarks to cops attempting to arrest him for DUI.
Traffic cops, I happen to know from personal experience, are – to put it as gently and humanely as possible – the mud-sucking scum of the earth. It’s hard to sink lower. But Mel Gibson managed it. His anti-Semitic obscenities were not only crude and cruel, they were absurd non-sequiturs, unless Gibson somehow thinks Jews were responsible for his being drunk and receiving a citation.
The notion that Jews have started most of the wars in history – as Gibson ranted to the arresting officer – is idiotic on its own, but what does it have to do with being ticketed for drunken driving in the first place?
Of course boozers are not known for their logical prowess. Isn’t it interesting, though, that this is what springs to the surface when Gibson gets ticked off? Right away, “The Jews.” Imagine if his sicko/psycho “religious” movie about Jesus had failed rather than succeeded at the box office. Whose fault would that be? Why of course: "The Jews!"
I once heard that the ruling class of a small Scandinavian country having economic troubles decided to blame them on “the Jews,” even though a census discovered there wasn’t a single Jew within the country’s borders.
A very wise Washingtonian named Frank Mankiewicz taught me an important semantical distinction many years ago (and he’s anything but anti-Semantical). Talking about “Jews” may be harmless, Mankiewicz said, “but when I hear references to ‘The Jews,’ I start to get uncomfortable.” Whether Gibson said “Jews” or “The Jews” in the course of his deranged tirade, we know where his sympathies lay. This minimally talented actor, whose roles in movies often have creepy Christ-like overtones (at the end of one he’s tied shirtless to a ceiling pipe, then beaten and flogged by the modern-day equivalent of Roman soldiers), has something in his DNA, too, but it ain’t wit.
One could argue that making jokes about the incident trivializes it, but once the 11 o’clock news is over, virtually everything is fair game for satirists and gagsters, and the Emmy special gets a special dispensation where topical jokes are concerned. Jay Leno, unfortunately, revealed a nasty streak of his own when the topic came up on “The Tonight Show” soon after it occurred. Leno apparently thought “the Jews” should be the brunt of jokes, not a movie superstar like Mel Gibson nor the mal de Mel from which he suffers. The joke was something about how long it would take “the Jews” to forgive Mel Gibson for his remarks to a Malibu traffic cop. That’s right: Gibson makes a fool of himself, and Leno thinks the laugh is on Jews.
That’s not all. Leno also managed to slip in a description of Gibson as being a “nice guy” – yes, just your typical “nice guy” zillionaire who hates Jews! – perhaps as part of an effort to lure Gibson onto Leno’s show so he could make his “official” national apology, however half-hearted, there. Leno’s ratings got a big boost a few years back when Hugh Grant, a stammering actor, came on to explain about picking up a hooker on the Sunset Strip, or wherever.
Conan, funniest of all late-night comics – funnier even than reigning monarch David Letterman – please don’t wimp out during the Emmy show. Remember how Letterman suffered after hosting the Academy Awards, not just because he ran that Oprah-Uma thing into the ground but, some Hollywood phonies said later, he’d been too “irreverent” joking about a then-recent Jack Nicholson encounter with traffic cops. It seems Jack lost his temper and started pounding on the hood of a nearby Mercedes with one of his golf clubs. Dave went too far when he ridiculed Nicholson, or so a few Hollywood dignitaries later complained.
First of all, there is no such thing as a Hollywood dignitary. How can there be dignitaries where there is no dignity? Grace Kelly became Hollywood Royalty, but she had to leave the sleazy place to qualify. “Hollywood dignitary.” Ha ha, that’s rich, as Bugs Bunny would say (Bugs had dignity, yes, but that’s a hair shy of actually being a dignitary).
Gibson has demonstrated what you find when you scratch the surface of too many Hollywood stars: ignorance, snobbery, nastiness, racism, and a bilious green slime that substitutes for blood. Conan’s no Hollywood geek; he’s a New York freak. He represents the city of glorious diversity, where racism is impractical because everybody’s bumping elbows, shoulders and beer bellies. Gibson may make an appearance at the Emmy Awards, a bit of self-conscious noblesse oblige gesture on his part, but more likely it will be announced that surprise, surprise, he’s going to pop up on Leno’s show sometime next week. The two ignorant dopes can pool their resources and try to come up with a genuine, articulate, coherent and grammatically respectable sentence.
That means a sentence with no racism in it – which won’t be easy for these two. Unless Mel’s next picture is going to be “Christ’s Wounds – A Closer Look,” or some other sure-fire rabble-rouser, he’d better give it a try. He doesn’t have to mean it – the apology, or the statement abhorring racism, or whatever – he just has to do a good job of faking it.